When the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asked the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to prove it had actually spent $14.8 million of taxpayers' money to help minorities in Iraq the way Congress told them to spend it, USAID just couldn't do it.
Background: Since 2003, Iraqi minority groups have been subjected to religiously and ethnically motivated attacks, killings, and forced displacements. In response, the U.S. Congress approved funding intended to assist these groups. In a series of "directives," Congress stipulated exactly how the funds were to be used. Congress also directed USAID to oversee the expenditure of the funds and to ensure that the money was used according to the congressional directives.
In its 2008 directive, Congress stipulated that at least $10 million be used to assist religious minorities in the Ninewa plain region of Iraq. In addition, Congress directed that up to another $10 million be used to assist internally displaced families in the Ninewa plain region.
Where Did the Money Go? According to its report (GAO-12-834), the GAO found that USAID was unable to show how the projects it funded in Iraq were funded according to the 2008 directive from Congress.
First, in the projects USAID reported to Congress, only $3.8 million of the $14.8 million in assistance (26%) could be linked directly to the Ninewa plain region of Iraq.
In addition, the GAO found that the documentation USAID gave Congress failed to show whether any of the $14.8 million actually went to assist minority groups or internally displaced families.
Strike three; USAID failed to demonstrate that the money it spent in Iraq had come from previously unobligated funds in the Economic Support Fund (ESF), as directed by Congress.
Note: The Economic Support Fund (ESF) is a fund set aside annually by Congress specifically to support economic recovery projects in repressed and rebuilding countries as identified in the U.S. Foreign Assistance Framework. Funds from the ESF may also be used in countries considered critical to the Global War on Terror. In 2009, Congress allocated $3.15 billion for the Economic Support Fund.
What the GAO Recommended: The GAO merely reported its findings to Congress and did not make any recommendations. The GAO noted that the State Department, overall administrators of U.S. foreign aid spending, offered no comments to its report.
USAID responded, without providing any details or documentation, simply that it had met the needs of the Iraqi minority groups to "a greater extent than is presented" in the GAO's report.
The general lack of substantive response to its report from either the State Department or USAID led the GAO to conclude that it "continues to believe that USAID could not demonstrate how its reported assistance met the provisions of the 2008 directive."